Word of Mouth

Elise Wiggins: Getting to the meat of the matter in Panzano, Italy

Panzano Executive Chef Elise Wiggins is in the small town of Panzano, Italy, doing a stagisti with Dario Cecchini, the mad butcher of Panzano and owner of Antica Macelleria Cecchini. Wiggins, who recently won a Colorado Restaurant Association Industry Spot award and also earned Panzano another Best Italian Restaurant award, says that at 42, she's honing her skills by learning from a master.

Here's Elise's account of her first days in Panzano, Italy:

Just got to Panzano and met Dario! He was super nice! He fed me and introduced me to my roommate from Barcelona. Thank God I speak Spanish. I understand everyone's Italian; I just can't quickly get the right words out when I'm talking to the Italians. They speak so fast. I'm hoping after a couple of days I'll have it down! It's so gorgeous here! I don't think my roommate knew I was going to be living with him! There's underwear everywhere! Certainly makes it interesting!

I'm assigned to the restaurant. On the first floor is the machelleria, the shop that sells his goods and upstairs is the restaurant, which includes outside seating. The restaurant is as busy as they can be, with 45 seats inside and 20 outside. Packed all the time. The shop downstairs consistently sees more walk-in and buyers than the restaurant.

The first night they had me on the grill I cooked three different steaks. Tagliatti, which translates to a huge rib chop; what they call Panzanese steak, a huge piece of top round; and then Bistecca Fiorentina, a traditional porterhouse! Each of these beasts averages at least five pounds. I was also grilling what Dario's folks call steak tartare. It's chopped beef on a stick, just charred on the outside.

I learned a cool thing last night working on two huge grills. They keep all the ashes after they grill something and put them in this huge bucket to use later. When the fire gets too hot they sprinkle leftover ashes all over and it works perfectly to dull the flame! Speaking of grills, I want one or two of these for Panzano! They're super cool and dramatic, just like Dario!

After only a few days of the stagisti, Dario told me he wants to come cook with me in Denver. Oh, and I had two marriage proposals by the end of the night! Gotta love those Italians. They're good for the ego!

The funniest thing/? Even even with my big personality, Dario makes me seem shy!

Ciao, Elise Hungry for more? We'll publish another installment from Elise later this week.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun